Whether you use the streets as a driver, a cyclist, or both, see how much you know about sharing the road safely.
1.The speed limit on New York City Streets is:
a) 20 mph b) 30 mph c) 35 mph d) 40 mph
2. When a motor vehicle is overtaking a cyclist, minimum safe passing distance is:
a) 1 foot b) 2 feet c) 3 feet d) 4 feet
3. True or false?
Cyclists must ride only single file in New York State.
4. True or false?
Cyclists mostly ride for recreation; therefore they belong only on bike paths or in parks.
5. True or false?
When passing a cyclist, you should always honk your horn.
6. True or false?
Cyclists belong on the sidewalk.
7. True or false?
Cyclists are allowed to ride in the center of some traffic lanes.
8. True or false?
Motorists turning left must yield the right of way to cyclists proceeding straight at an intersection.
9. True or false?
It’s OK to cut off cyclists. They are slow, can stop quickly, and are lower priority than cars.
10. True or false?
A cyclist who runs into a car door that opens suddenly is at fault and liable for any damages.
Check your answers and then see feedback on your score at the end.
1. B. The New York City Department of Health has found that more than one quarter of all traffic fatalities are caused by excess speed. A pedestrian struck at 40 mph is four times more likely to die than one struck at 30 mph; colliding with a pedestrian at 30 mph is six times more likely to kill that person than a 20 mph collision. Having a crash with anyone will ruin your day; slowing down gives motorists more time to react to a sudden event (like a cyclist swerving to avoid a hazard), and slower speeds means your car can stop more quickly.
2. D. Neither New York State nor City traffic laws specifies a minimum safe passing distance for cyclists. But how would you like to be passed by a one-ton, fast moving object that’s less than 36 inches away? Give cyclists at least four feet, which gives both the cyclist and the motorist room to maneuver if something unexpected happens. New York State traffic law requires motorists to pass slower vehicles “at a safe distance on the left side.” Furthermore, it’s dangerous to assume that one can “cut it close” because a cyclist will maintain his position on the road. Cyclists may have to react quickly to road hazards, to a child or animal darting out in front of them, or to a car door that swings open.
3. False. New York State traffic law states that cyclists can ride not more than two abreast if sufficient space is available, and that they must ride single file when passing or being overtaken by other traffic.
4. False. Some people seem to believe that cyclists, as recreational road users, have no place on the roads, and are obstructions to “legitimate” traffic. State law specifically defines traffic as people (including bicyclists) using the roads for purposes of travel and grants cyclists all the rights and responsibilities of vehicle drivers, which implicitly means the right to use practically any road. If recreational traffic doesn’t belong on the roads, then all those folks using RVs, towing boats, and driving for vacation shouldn’t be using the roads either. In fact, many cyclists on the roads aren’t recreational; there are many working (delivery) cyclists, and many other cyclists use bikes as a form of transportation to commute and run errands.
5. False. This is a tricky one. But we’re going to go on the assumption that most cyclists riding on the road are well aware that they will be interacting with other traffic, and normally don’t need to be warned by every passing car. The law says that cars must be equipped with a horn for signaling, be sufficiently loud, and serve as a danger warning, but should not be used other than as a reasonable warning. A cyclist on the road is not a dangerous condition, and doesn’t by itself warrant a beep on the horn. The law confuses things a bit by telling motorists they must exercise due care to avoid colliding with cyclists, “and give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.” Still, the idea is that the horn means a warning, probably of a imminent, dangerous situation. Horns are a poor method of communication, and easily misinterpreted; therefore their use should be confined to emergency situations. Does it really make sense to honk at a cyclist to “get out of the way,” only to wind up behind several other vehicles at the same red light as the cyclist? Passing a cyclist is a routine situation, not an emergency. Here are some other guidelines. 1) Never use a horn to communicate “get out of the way” to a cyclist; the cyclist belongs on the road, and is no more in one’s way than any other traffic; 2) Do use a horn if it appears that a cyclist is erratic or totally unaware of a potentially dangerous situation about to develop.
6. False. New York State doesn’t have a law covering sidewalk cycling; it does have very clear laws giving cyclists the right to use the roads. Sidewalk cycling laws tend to occur at the county or municipal level, so check your local law. New York City law makes it illegal for any cyclist older than 12 to ride on the sidewalk.
7. True. New York State law requires that cyclists must ride near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, or on a useable right-hand shoulder to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic. Nonetheless, cyclists are allowed to move left to avoid hazards, obstructions, and to turn left. Hazardous conditions include traffic lanes too narrow for a bicyclist and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane. Translation: cyclists can “take the lane,” that is, travel in the center of a narrow traffic lane.
8. True. Right of way at intersections is determined by clear rules, not by what people choose to drive. Left turning traffic at a green light must yield to on-coming traffic, including bicyclists. Tip: watch out for cyclists in blind spots, such as a cyclist following a truck or van.
9. False. Many bike-car collisions happen partly because motorists underestimate a cyclist’s speed, and may over-estimate a cyclist’s reaction time and stopping distance. If a cyclist has to apply the brakes because someone turned or passed in front of her, it’s a good indicator that she’s been “cut off.” Some motorists may do this because they’re in a hurry, and don’t regard a cyclists’ safety as more important. But think about it . . . if you cut off a cyclist because you’re in a hurry, and thereby cause a crash, how much more time is it going to take to stop and deal with the aftermath of a crash than it is to yield to the cyclist for a few seconds? And if you’ve gotten this far in the quiz, you’ve already read the same point several times now: roads aren’t just for cars. Cyclists have a right to use the roads, and in many cases, are actually required to be there. Not-so-fun fact: Most traffic crashes happen at driveways and intersections, where traffic traveling different directions cross paths with each other, and where drivers are most like to cut off cyclists.
10. False. It’s against New York State traffic law to open a vehicle door in such a way that interferes with moving traffic; drivers and their passengers must check to see if it’s safe to open a vehicle door on the traffic side. Three New York City cyclists were killed in “dooring” incidents in 2010.
0-3: Whoa! Park that car and don’t get behind the wheel again until you learn to drive responsibly and share the road. Familiarize yourself with some basic rules of the road, and then ride a bike on busy streets for a week to gain a new perspective. If you find yourself cutting off cyclists, honking your horn, and yelling when you drive, an anger management course might be in order, too. You should also take a driver improvement class (we recommend AAA and NTSI programs) before you even think about putting the keys back in the ignition!
4-6: Sorry, 40-60% is still a failing grade in most schools. While you aren’t as clueless as those who scored even worse, it appears that you played hooky the day your driver’s education instructor went over the rules of the road. Looks like driver’s ed is a complete do-over for you, so enroll in a defensive driving course from AAA or NTSI. Once you’re a more informed motorist, take Bike New York’s Savvy Cyclist: Traffic Skills 101 class to see it all from a cyclist’s point of view.
9-10: The world needs more excellent drivers and cyclists like you. More cyclists should be teaching drivers. Consider teaching the rules of the road to other people. Sign up to become an LCI or get certified to teach driver’s ed classes.
Traffic Smarts Quiz
Before your next ride, test yourself with these 12 questions to find out how well you know your rights and responsibilities as a street cyclist.
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